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presidential election behind us, perhaps we can get past the petty bickering and focus on the issues on our lives. the so-called war on drugs, eugene jarecki turns his lens on the drug issue. his new documentary is called "the house i live in" and was awarded at the sundance festival. conversation with eugene jarecki coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your
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pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: eugene jarecki is an award winning filmmaker whose previous projects include "why we fight." is the latest project is "the house we live in." here are some scenes. >> you have to understand the war on drugs has never been about drugs. >> americas public enemy number one is a drug abuse. >> what will you do when someone offers you drugs?
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>> just say no! >> we intend to end the drug menace and to eliminate this dark evil enemy within. >> put him away. >> three strikes and you're out. >> somebody down the road said drugs are bad. there is no argument there. but think about where we are 30 years later. >> i do what i have to do. i know how to survive. i have some way, so -- >> the war against drugs is heating up. >> i think i should have wrote -- they should have written prison guard on my forehead because it's just it's me. >> let him go to prison. >> 20 years for drug trafficking. >> of the 2600 people i sent to federal prison, i see three or four kingpins who are incarcerated. >> people are fed into a machine
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like me to make sausage. >> law enforcement agencies get rewarded in cash for the sheer numbers of drug arrests. >> that is my money now. >> the scale is unbelievable. >> all sorts of people have a financial interest. >> gun manufacturers, health- care providers, phone companies. >> we will get rich and we will all be rich together. tavis: it is free to have you on the program. first, since you have been in california for a while working on a particular proposition that passed in california this week, with the elections in the senate in the house and states across the country come increasingly these ballot measures are becoming important. >> prop. 36 was an amazing moment for california and also for the nation. as you may know, california has had the most draconian three
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strikes law in america. under california law, until election day, it was the case that you could get a third strike that would put you in jail for life, even if the third strike was petty or non-violent, like stealing a slice of pizza or stealing sox. these are cases where people got life sentences. so the california voters, god bless him, have made a victory -- a major victory for the country. a petty or non-run defense cannot put you in prison for life. going forward, there are 35 people in california whose sentences will now be revisited, people whose life sentences will be far proved. and there thousands more who would have gone life sentences for completely petty and nonviolent crimes and now won't. it is humane and it will save the state about $150 million a year. i want to see that resonated across the country. tavis: what to your mind is happening with the california
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political psyche or in the water we drink? what is happening in california that allowed that to pass, because, to your point, for some years we have been so draconian and getting tough on crime? what you think is happening that is allowing that door to even be opened? >> i think it is an indicator of a national trend, national trend. we have had the drug war for 30 years. we spent a trillion dollars. we have had 45 million drug arrests and what we have to show for it? drugs are cheaper than ever before, purer than ever before, younger and younger people using them beforthan ever before. nobody wants to stand for the drug war anymore. the drug war has lost its credibility. it has sentenced a that is costing the taxpayer a fortune. it is incredible to see california begin to lead us toward the light, toward something far more decent and more about common sense and
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ultimately about practical government, practical solutions. tavis: do you get a sense that these moments are cyclical? that at one point we want to be ridiculously tough on crime, even in schools, we passed zero tolerance policies and then we find out that kids are being criminalize at an early age for fine -- for fighting or chewing gum or truancy, spitballs. tell me your view of the ebb and flow the way we deal with criminality. >> i hope it is an event flow. you ask folks in this country, they will tell you that there is a lot of ban ebb not a lot of flow. i do believe that we are the tipping point where the attic failure of the war on drugs is finally speaking volumes -- the abject failure of the war on drugs is finally speaking volumes. so many are nonviolent and some
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in their put away as non-violent people for sentences that are often longer them for violent crimes. summiteer arrested for a life for stealing a pack of gum, somewhere down the lot -- down the road there's somebody who is sentenced for life because of killing somebody. we have had long fighters for this. to say that this is an unfair and inhumane treatment, especially the black community in america. but now they have something common with grover norquist and pat robertson. chris christi waiting in. they think it is an over bloated federal disgrace that costs billions every year and gets us nowhere. all it does is he wrote our national population at a time when we need all the people we can get. we need all the creativity we can get. we need taxpayers. tavis: i am a chartered -- i am
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unsure i am arguing against this. is it the case that individual policy makers will often times were sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reasons? it is not that day come to appreciate, to respect and to revel in the humanity of these fellow citizens. it is that it is impacting my budget as governor of the state. what do you make of that reality? >> i share your discomfort about this and i will give you a story. when i was making the film, i met julie stewart who runs families against mandatory -- i urge people to look up fam as it is called. she talks about how the drug war may get mitigated because california cannot afford in meeting more. this state has to do it for economic reasons.
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i said, does it trouble you that these things could change for the right reasons? how did we become a glue op nation? if you want to get rid of your weeds in your garden, you have them off but they will grow back in another form. doesn't that bother you? and she looked at me in a very sweet way and she said to me come in a way, it must be nice to fly at your altitude where you can have an academic theory like that. if you don't mind, meanwhile, have 500 inmates that have been working with for years and years and years who will get out because of these small developments. we can fight your academic battle about the truth and the real leader. is she right and i am wrong? no, we're both right. i am doing it in my small way where i am making a film where
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i'm saying that the drug war needs to be relegated to the ash heap of history. at the same time, we need small victories like we saw several of this week in the election. tavis: 01 to go into the film, but as we have referenced california politics, i also believe that what happens in california politics either cast a long shadow or long sunbeam on the rest of the nation. california is under federal court order to do something about the overcrowding in our prisons. to what extent will california another states -- to what extent will california and other states have to not only address but redress this issue? >> in this election cycle, people said where was the prison guard union in obstruction of
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36? why were they quieter this time around than in former times? overcrowding is bad enough for the inmates. but if you look at california penitentiary's, they get so overcrowded that we're the gymnasiums are used for bed space stacked three high. there are scenes in my movie where it is a sea beds. it looks like a slave ship. that is a threat to the guards. you cannot have safety for your guards if they have to navigate a room full of a thousand men who represent an and checked situation. it is not usual suchard practices. so you see the need to fix a situation like that that is both inhumane and dysfunctional. people have to watch california very carefully. the issues continue here.
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as a get rid of people from the larger prison system in this state, it does not like those people will go to some desert island and have a daiquiri for the rest of their lives. there are often shifted to county jails, places that don't have a gym, don't have outdoor space, were not built for long- term residence. so there is a shell game that is going on the people have to be wary of how that prison liberation is happening because it may be out of the frying pan and into the fire. tavis: i am fascinated by the way this film came to be. >> i don't look like the usual target of the drug war. tavis: i was literally on an airplane earlier this week and i was in new york on election day doing analysis for nbc. i flew home after being in new york on tuesday. i walked on the planet of my seat. it just so happened that seated
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next to was the publisher for -- alexander. i was happy to meet the publisher and we had a wonderful talk about this issue. i told them i was going home to interviewed eugene jarecki. i said to the publisher that i have been completely blown away in a positive way by the fact that a book called "the new jim crow" about the new prison industrial public is now 42 weeks on the new york times best-seller list. it is astonishing. and with that title. and michele alexander, professor at ohio state university in columbus, they initially only printed 3000 copies. now there are a couple hundred thousand i guess. but it caught on somewhere and it has done remarkably well. what does that say to you about
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the timing for a real conversation about her book, about your film, about the issue? >> the time is now. i would like to say that michelle alexander's success is due to the fact she is in my film. but i cannot because my film has just come out. [laughter] tavis: but it is fair to say that mitchell would be the first technologists. it is fair to say that her book has succeeded because a whole of the -- a whole lot of of of seven long distance runners on this issue. >> she brilliantly framed it in a book that leave no stone unturned in that argument and she does it from being a legal scholar and being an extraordinary activist and public thinker. i think there are contributors like michelle alexander and others, all of, brought into my film because i want to sort of make a definitive portrait right now of where we are in the overwhelming need to reform the drug war.
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if i made this film several years ago, we were all fighting for this issue and we were a lot more in the wilderness. it was much harder to get traction. but when you see people from the right and the left, for reasons having to do with fiscal conservancy on the one hand or him is among the other, they're all collapsing down on this war on drugs and saying this is the primary human rights crisis we face in america. this is a thing that is a giant hole in the ground. i am told you cannot stop this because a prison industrial complexes such a big business. it is not a business. don't tell me it is a business. because it does not add to the gdp. like a casino, it redistributes wealth from poor people to more comfortable people. you cannot export the misery of an innate. -- of an inmate. you can export a shattered community. all it is doing is from people and money into a hole in the ground where we don't have to think about them again. as david simon says in this film, another remarkable national treasure like michele alexander, look at it this way.
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we have extra americans in america who we don't need any more because we have closed so many factories. we outsourced so many jobs. and they are increasingly more than just african-americans. it is poor people in general. david simon says, look, if this is the way we will treat your poor people, we will lock them up and throw away the key and profit from their incarceration. one of just kill them? one of people about it? it is such a staggering moment -- why not just kill them? why not be honest about it? it is such a staggering moma in my film. it has to meebe a better way toe the united states and just be the incredible incarcerator. tavis: you recall there was a great debate for years over why ronald reagan as president would not say the word aids. was a great debate for years
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when george bush would not say the phrase climate change. can you ever imagine barack obama now come in a second term, which revealed some believes will free him up, whatever that means, do you ever imagine him saying the phrase, has president, the prison investor complex? >> the way eisenhower once said the military industrial complex and heads turned and some world? i do think so. i know for example that the film has been made available to the president and i hope that come in the coming weeks and months, it will become something that it will not be fighting off just the philistines and washington. i would like him and others around him look at it and look at things like jim crow and take stock of what his legacy will be. barack obama's first administration was a bit of confusion for many of us in the fight against the war on drugs.
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i spoke to 1/5 person who said i am not a drug czar. that comes from the wrong mindset. don't call it a drug war because we do not think that is a war against zero people. i thought, great, there is a new sheriff in town. the obama administration and whether it is because of them or because of washington, and i am probably inclined to think it is more the latter, they ended up being not very effective or changing the war on drugs other than changing the language. my fear with that, if you're going to conduct the war, do not conduct it on another name. i am troubled by the way the first term did not manifest serious and meaningful reform in this. but i am hopeful that a new term with the right pressure and with the right sense from this week's -- several victories in several states against the drug
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war that maybe washington and maybe the obama administration will get the message that the time has come and that we do something that needs to become something of the past and in national discourse. tavis: this project called "the house i live in" release started in your house. >> as i was growing up, i am a white jewish american. my parents fled the holocaust and the czars of russia. we all looked at ourselves as people who needed to understand that we represented struggle in europe and that, as we would see a struggle in america, we would want to identify ourselves with that struggle. so african-americans became a natural brothers in struggle. it was natural to see the struggle for dignity for black people in america as a sister struggle of the jewish struggle. growing up, it was always a part of my breakfast cereal to think of myself as someone who is part
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of a larger struggle. as i grew up, i had a lot of friends in the african-american community and people close to my family, and one in particular who is in the film. i watched as those young people that i was growing up alongside -- they did not encounter the same possibilities that i did, the same opportunities. we all thought it was the wake of the civil rights movement, i grew up in the early 1970's. it was in the year that it would be a new time for black people and that it would be a great time where the promise will finally be fulfilled. sure, today, we have a black president of the second time and we have black celebrities who have made an incredible contribution in this country. but for the masses of black people, let's not kid ourselves. the leading indicators in my lifetime, social, political and economic, have been harrowing. as i became old and became a movie maker and was committed as a political person to social justice, it was a matter of time before was going to address just what went wrong and what is going wrong for black america and that is where the roots of the film why. tavis: the connection to your
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family specifically is what? >> one of the people in my life that meant a lot to me -- this is not where a plan to white filmmaker discusses their housekeeper. nanny was an extraordinary person in my life and we remain incredibly close friends. she is retired now and we have a deep involved love for each other. and then became older, i saw her become which she herself saw was the first generation of african-americans who were better off than their children. it was a heartbreaking things to watch because you work a whole lot to a dance for children and give them all the things she did not have. she was the first generation to see that that was not working, that the forces arrayed at her children and grandchildren was far more than she could overwhelm. and that all of her hard work for my family to raise me well, to put my house in order meant that her house was left out of order. so to commit down the highway to
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be with my control family and help my comfortable family events had a cost. and that cost became clear to me with my contract -- the conversations with her. she would never fall to me. we're both victims of the same system. we're both participants in a system that is designed that way. my film is a movie about the terms and had -- the things i had to come to terms with. the 25 other states where i could look at how other families were being affected by that same war on drugs and by our system of mass incarceration. tavis: does the film draw conclusions about what we ought to do about this so-called war on drugs? >> carefully and very gently. when you make a movie about a problem, for a truly a complex problem with deep roots, i learned things about the rigs that were buried by opening to me and wanted to get that across
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to people is in that war by opening -- that were eye opening to me and i wanted to get across to people. at the end of the day, knew it would compromise the movie because it needs to are not to the audience but groups of activists and hard-working long distance runners all of the country who want to make change and they want to make serious change. they need a movie that says what is wrong and they can say, hi, everybody, i am here tonight and i showed you this movie and i am families against mandatory minimums. i am one group or another and we can tell you how we think we can solve it here in chicago or in l.a. or in a small town. i did not want -- i did not want to muzzle people out by having my message. tavis: in the clips that the audience has seen tonight in this show about your film, they have seen clips of every president in my lifetime, which
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obviously suggested to the viewer that every president at some point has addressed this issue. >> very strangely, richard nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971, but nixon, although he talks tough on crime, that is not how he made his policies. he spent two-thirds of his drug budget on treatment and only a third on enforcement. we ought to at minimum look at this drug issue with treatment. tavis: why we got away from that reality -- it is a health crisis first before an issue of criminality. >> starting with nixon, the successive presidents being tough on crime get them elected and also members of congress. and they are particularly corrupted by the unholy alliance that have with the corporations. treating with criminality rather than treating it as a health
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matter that should be addressed with compassion rather than draconian approach. tavis: the project is called "the house i live in. " the director is eugene jarecki. that is our show for tonight. thank you for watching. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with frank rich and his take on the election of 2012. that is next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.
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Tavis Smiley
PBS November 12, 2012 2:30pm-3:00pm PST

News/Business. Eugene Jarecki. (2012) Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY California 18, America 6, Eugene Jarecki 5, New York 3, Washington 3, Us 3, Michelle Alexander 2, U.s. 2, Michele Alexander 2, Nixon 2, Barack Obama 1, Obama Administration 1, Obama 1, Mitchell 1, Black America 1, Pbs 1, Smiley 1, Sunbeam 1, State University 1, United States 1
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